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NBA PM: Rivers Excited to Play Small Forward

Austin Rivers will spend some time at small forward for the Los Angeles Clippers this season.

Cody Taylor

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Looking at the roster for the Los Angeles Clippers, it’s clear that the small forward position is one of the weakest on the team. With players like Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan locked in as starters, four out of the five positions in the lineup are set.

The small forward spot in the lineup seemingly has no clear starter for the team. Last season, the Clippers plugged a few different players into the position out of necessity. When Griffin was in the lineup, head coach Doc Rivers went with Luc Mbah a Moute; he then used Mbah a Moute and Paul Pierce when Griffin was out the lineup.

While Pierce will certainly be in the Hall of Fame once his illustrious career ends following this season, it’s clear that he isn’t the player that he was when he played with the Boston Celtics. Mbah a Moute is a good defender, but is limited offensively – averaging a career-low 3.1 points in 75 games last season.

The other four positions on the team feature some of the best players in the league, but the three spot is still in need of help. The Clippers were limited this summer in cap space, and mainly just re-signed their pending free agents like Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson and Mbah a Moute.

The starting small forward for this season seems to still be up in the air. Players like Pierce, Wesley Johnson and Mbah a Moute will likely all be counted on to play the position at some point this season. It remains to be seen what type of role rookie forward Brice Johnson will have given recent news that he’ll be out indefinitely with a herniated disk.

One player that the team may experiment with at the small forward position is Rivers. He and his father revealed to reporters over the weekend that he’ll see some time this season at the three. One obvious takeaway from that thought is Austin is primarily a backcourt player and is undersized to be able to guard some of the bigger threes in the league, but it’s an idea they’re going to explore.

“I didn’t initially really even know about it until they started hinting that I got to start lifting a little bit more,” Rivers said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on, man? I’ve been lifting like every day.’ They want me to start guarding threes and they mentioned the idea of me possibly coming out of the gate starting some at the three.

“The reason it’s possible is because there are not really post-up bigs anymore. Unless I’m playing LeBron [James] or [Carmelo Anthony]. Those are the only two where that would be a game where [Mbah a Moute] would have to [guard them] because they’re just too big for me to [guard] because those guys are like twice my size. Other wings don’t post up so it’s not like the 90s where they had all of these heavy-set wings where guards couldn’t really guard them.”

While size puts Rivers at a clear disadvantage against the bigger wings in the league like James, Anthony and Kawhi Leonard, the team sees his quickness as an advantage at the position. Doc told reporters that most threes have an advantage off of the dribble against defenders, but putting a player like Austin at the position gives him the benefit of taking away the dribble and forcing the player to post up. Austin pointed to players like Chandler Parsons and Andre Iguodala as threes that he can guard because they like to face up a lot and shoot three-pointers.

The idea of playing Austin at the three seems to still be fluid at the moment as the opposing matchup will determine who will start at the position. He started for the Clippers at the three last Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors. He was tasked with guarding DeMar DeRozan during the first half of that game and gave up 20 points to DeRozan on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. He joked at practice on Saturday that he felt his first time went well other than the fact that DeRozan had 20 points in the first half. He is currently listed as the probable starter at the three for tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz.

Rivers is coming off of his best season, averaging 8.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 67 games. One of his best performances of the season occurred during the playoffs in Game 6 against the Portland Trail Blazers after he scored 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds. He earned the respect of many as he played most of the game with four stitches above his eye after taking an elbow to the face and leaving for a brief stretch of time.

The fact that Rivers is openly embracing the idea of playing another position seems positive for the team. Rivers said that he played some three last season when the team faced Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Playing at the three now will give the team some versatility depending on certain matchups since Rivers has proven that he can play as either guard position as well.

In order to prepare Rivers for the change, he said the team is going to have him play one-on-one against Griffin in practice. While Griffin is a lot bigger and stronger than most threes, practicing with Griffin will give Rivers an idea of what he can expect when defending the position. In addition, the team will have Griffin guard Rivers in practice so he’ll be able to switch onto guards in certain situations.

It remains to be seen exactly how much time Rivers will spend at the position. As Doc mentioned, the matchups will determine where Austin will play in the lineup. Doc understands that he won’t be able to utilize Austin every night at the position, but it will give him some versatility when formulating game plans this season.

This is going to be a big season for the Clippers. Paul and Griffin have the option to become unrestricted free agents next summer and several other players like Redick, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton and Alan Anderson will be unrestricted free agents as well.

This team has shown before that they can be one of the best teams in the Western Conference when healthy, but they’ve battled some unfortunate injuries over the years that have prevented them from playing their best basketball. This season could be make-or-break for this team and expectations will surely be very high.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA AM: Pacers Got Some Much Needed Tough Love

After a rocky start, Thaddeus Young spoke up, and it may have helped the Pacers find their identity.

Steve Kyler

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A Little Tough Love

Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young isn’t known as a vocal leader, in fact, his reputation is that he’s usually the most even-keeled guy in the room. However, after the Pacers were blown out by the Detroit Pistons in early November, the normally reserved Young was anything but that.

“When we lost, I think, we lost at the first Detroit game. I came in, and I spoke to the team, and I was a little out of character because I was yelling,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “It got through to those guys, and we understood what we had to do to go out there and win games.

“I made it clear that if we don’t move the ball, if we don’t do it by committee, if we don’t defend and guard the paint, it’s going to be a long season. It’s going to be one of those seasons where it’s going to be tough on everybody, and we don’t want that.”

The Pacers seemed to turn a corner after that moment. A sense of purpose was introduced to the team—a team that has so many new faces playing so many new roles. It also brought the team together.

“We love being around each other,” Young explained. “We’re doing it as a family, and we’re committed to winning games as a whole, not as one person. When I came in and got on those guys, it was out of the love for the game, the passion for the game, the passion for this team and understanding where we can go as a team.”

The Pacers have lost one game since Young spoke his mind.

Young, who is playing in his 11th NBA season, sees something special in this year’s version of the Pacers—a team many predicted would be rebuilding, but one that enters play on November 21 two games above .500 and setting the tone as much on defense.

“Defensively we’re coming along,” Young admitted. “We’re starting to lock in a little bit more on the defensive side of the basketball. Offensively, it’s there.

“We know what we have to do to win games, which is move the basketball, execute, and do it by committee. Defensively if we do it by committee each and every night, defensively we’ll be definitely a tough team to beat. Especially going into the later part of the season.”

Young has always been something of an all-purpose player who understands that on this team, he has to be part of the defensively solution.

“I have tough matchups each and every night,” Young said. “I’m switching on guys; that’s point guards or centers or just all different positions. I have to be able to do those different things, and for me, I take pride in my defense each and every night. Going out there and executing on the defensive end because the offense is going to come. I don’t really worry too much about offense. I’ve been in the league long enough to know how I’m going to score the basketball and what I’m going to be able to do, but it’s ‘Can you get stops on the defensive end?’ which is going to win games for us.”

While most would see a 10-8 record as a positive thing, Young and the Pacers know they have to get better at the little things to be the team they want to be.

“We feel like we should be better and we’re continuing to get better as a team,” Young said. “We continue practicing, playing, and going out there and executing in games. We’re getting better as a team. We can’t have stretches like that where we lost four games in a row or a couple of games in a row. We have to try to bounce back from one loss and try to get to the next game. So far, we’ve been doing a good job. We’ve just been playing. Like I said, we’re executing and having fun playing with each other.”

Young smiled when explained why he felt that he had to get on his teammates.

“Some guys could have been like ‘forget what he’s talking about,’ but everybody was on the same page,” Young explained. “Everybody understood exactly where I was coming from. Besides the fact when I get mad, they know something’s wrong. I’m pretty laid back and chill, so when I do get mad, and I do get upset, it’s something that has to change.”

The Pacers seem to have found their way, and maybe a little tough love from an unexpected place was all that was needed.

As things stand today, the Pacers are the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Their next stretch of games includes home contests against Toronto, Boston, and Orlando before finishing November on the road in Houston.

Time will tell if the Pacers are as good as they seem to be, but there is no questioning that they are playing some pretty inspired basketball.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA PM: Clippers In A Hole, Hoping For Spark From Beverley

The Clippers are in an early season free-fall and are hoping Patrick Beverley can help get them back on track.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers came into the season with the intention of turning the departure of Chris Paul into a positive. His departure led to the team netting the small forward it had always lacked in Danilo Gallinari, a replacement point guard in Patrick Beverley and a number of other new faces. With the massive turnover in key players, the hope would be that the Clippers would take this new mix of players and build around the franchise centerpiece, Blake Griffin, and thrive in a new era of Clippers basketball.

For now, at least, those offseason hopes have been dashed. The team is in the midst of a horrid skid where they have lost their last eight games and 10 of their last 11 going back to October 28. After losing the first two games, the team is playing their third of a five-game road trip tonight against the New York Knicks. When the team returns, they will host the Los Angeles Lakers who have been playing well as of late. Although the season is still young, the team is currently 13th in the Western Conference, nestled between the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings, and behind the Lakers. Not good company to have if your goal is to make the playoffs.

The team is coming off of an overtime loss to the Cavaliers in Cleveland and a 102-87 loss to the Charlotte Hornets that had been closer than the final score indicates. Yet, Head Coach Doc Rivers didn’t mince his words when judging the team’s performance against the Hornets.

“Overall this is a tough stretch to go through,” Rivers stated. “I thought we were selfish as far as moving the ball and playing together.”

Rivers didn’t hold back and made it clear how unhappy he was with the team’s effort.

“This was the first game that I wasn’t happy as a coach,” Rivers stated. “I can take losing even poorly if we play right. I just didn’t think we played right tonight.”

Coach Rivers is frustrated and with good reason. Only Griffin and bench sparkplug Lou Williams made their mark on offense with 19 and 25 points, respectively. DeAndre Jordan was the only other Clipper to register in double digits with 10 points.

Offense overall isn’t exactly the issue for the Clippers. Per nba.com, the Clippers’ offensive rating is 105.9, good for 10th in the league. However, the team’s assist percentage is 28th in the league at 51 percent, echoing Coach Rivers’ concern regarding selfish play. Look no further for proof than Jordan, whose shooting percentages have dropped from 71.4 percent to 64 percent, his worst shooting since the 2012-2013 season. Jordan depends on others to create for him through lobs, pick and roll finishes, dump offs and opportunistic put backs.

Injuries have helped to create and magnify many of the individual issues the team faces. In fact, all of the key players that have been missing from the Clippers rotation are capable playmakers and passers that can help to create a more fluid offense. Unfortunately, there is no clear timetable indicating when Gallinari and Euro passing sensation Milos Teodosic (only two games played) are set to return. Help is on the way with the Beverley set to return to the lineup tonight against the Knicks after missing the last five games.

On offense, Beverley is averaging 12.5 points, three assists and 3.9 rebounds. These are acceptable statistics that only partially indicate his worth to the team. Beverley had had success taking (5.3) and making (2.1) three-point shots at nearly a 40 percent clip (39.6). Beverley does a good job of creating space off the ball, allowing Griffin to be a scorer and a facilitator. In addition, Beverley has had success driving to the rim, where he is shooting 59.3 percent (0-3 feet from the rim), he can score, run pick and roll with Jordan or kick the ball out and keep the offense moving from side to side.

Coach Rivers made his view of Beverley’s value relative to their recent poor play abundantly clear.

“We get Patrick [Beverley] back Monday night,” Rivers stated. “[We can] start playing the right way, we will be all right.”

Beverley had been developing chemistry as a complement to everything the team does on defense as well as offense. Beverley has taken his aggressive defense to the Clippers and by doing so had taken up a shared role as a lead defensive weapon alongside Jordan. The team could use the help on defense where, over the last 11 games, they sport the worst defensive rating (111.3) in the NBA.

Having Beverley’s balance of defense and offense should be a boost to the team. The Clippers have earned a reputation over the years for sniping at the refs and getting flustered when things don’t go their way, which has bubbled up in their recent losing skid. Beverley helps with the intangibles as well including effort and hustle, which may help offset the team’s penchant for complaining.

Another benefit will be the ability of the team to re-insert Beverley back into the starting line-up and place guard Austin Rivers back on the bench. Rivers can be a productive player who brings a scoring punch against opposing second units while being available as a small ball small forward when necessary. Rivers can also be a pest on defense when focused. However, injuries have forced Rivers into the starting line-up where he has been less effective.

In an exclusive interview with Basketball Insiders, Lou Williams discussed the value of the team’s injured players.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s [Beverley] our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy [Teodosic] who was leading us in assists and we have another guy [Gallinari] who’s second in scoring.”

Whether the return of Beverley alone is enough to halt the team’s recent losing streak is unclear. The team is buried deep in the Western Conference and needs to get back on track sooner rather than later before the team falls too far behind to be competitive. As stated, there is no clear indication as to when the team will get Teodosic or Gallinari back. In addition, Griffin has his own history of injuries, having missed at least 15 games a season over the last four years. This year, the team has so far shown an inability to rise above injuries. The season is young but these are perilous times for the Clippers.

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Williams, Clippers Will Keep Pushing Through

The Clippers veteran guard chats with Spencer Davies in a one-on-one Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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For the second straight year, Lou Williams started his basketball season as a resident of California.

Despite being moved by the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline back in February, it wasn’t a long stay for the 31-year-old in Houston. After bolstering the Rockets’ bench in a big way during their playoff stretch, the organization dealt the veteran guard to the LA Clippers, meaning he was going right back to the City of Angels.

Which begs the question—did he even relocate from his old place?

“Yeah, I moved,” Williams told Basketball Insiders in Cleveland on Friday. “But I ended up moving back into the same neighborhood that I was in, so it was all good.”

The familiarity with the area must’ve been comforting, but playing for three different teams in such a short amount of time can’t be easy. It’s only been 15 games, but he already notices a discrepancy between the two that share the same arena.

“Obviously when you have different people running it,” Williams answered when asked to compare the Los Angeles franchises. “I think the Lakers were in a different space than the Clippers are. The Clippers are a more veteran group, so two completely different atmospheres.”

Winning four straight games to kick off the 2017-18 campaign, the year started out great for he and his new team, but it’s gone downhill in a hurry.

The Los Angeles Clippers are hurting in every way. Literally.

Only halfway through a five-city road trip, they’ve lost eight consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. Key members of their team are absent and they have been plagued by injuries out of the gate.

First, it was international sensation Milos Teodosic who went down with a foot injury in just the second NBA game of his career. Then there’s Danilo Gallinari, whose ailing hip has kept him out of action for two weeks. To top it all off, Patrick Beverley is dealing with a sore right knee that has forced him to miss over a week as well (he’ll reportedly be active on Monday night).

Without the trio, the Clippers are missing a little bit of everything, and Williams is eager for them to return to the floor because of it.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy who was leading us in assists and we have another guy who’s second in scoring.

“Three very important pieces of our team are missing. But we have other guys that’s stepping in doing the best job that they can. We’re just falling short.”

Aside from their most recent 15-point loss to the equally struggling Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center, Los Angeles has competed and been in almost every game during the long skid.

In Cleveland, they led for most of the way until midway through the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-forth affair when the Cavaliers struck back, and once the game went into overtime, the Clippers went cold and ran out of gas.

Taking out the element of overtime, the “close game, but no win” trend has been apparent as they attempt to get over the hump for a victory. Williams sees his team battling. They’re just not getting the outcomes they desire.

“Just continue to push,” Williams said of how LA can climb the wall. “We’ll have a couple of guys back this week from injuries.

“We’ve been playing extremely hard giving ourselves an opportunity to win these games and just haven’t been able to finish. Get guys back, just continue to push. We’ll break through.”

If Williams keeps on producing the way he has, especially as of late, that could be sooner rather than later. Over the last five games, the scoring assassin has put up over 30 points in two of them and 25 in another. In addition, he’s averaged over four rebounds, four assists, and more than a steal per game during the stretch.

When asked about what’s made him so comfortable, he kept it simple.

“Just playing,” Williams told Basketball Insiders.” Taking what the defense gives me and try to make shots. That’s it.”

Williams is special when it comes to how much he can impact a game in the snap of a finger. Over the course of his career, he’s one of those guys that have been able to just go off at any given moment.

“Just continue to play,” he said. “Play [as] hard as I can. I never really think about it until after the game. I just go out there, play [as] hard as I can. Put myself in position to score points and live with the results.”

You can recall Williams being an elite sixth man in this league for just about every team he’s been a part of. Whether it was with the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Lakers, Rockets or even with the Clippers now, he’s constantly been a guy to provide a powerful punch off the bench.

With the consistency and the energy he’s provided with second units throughout his career, it’s rather surprising that Williams has only won the Sixth Man of the Year award one time in his career. Having established this reputation, it should only be a matter of time before he’s rewarded again.

That being said, it’s got to be one of his aspirations, right?

“Not anymore,” Williams told Basketball Insiders, admitting he felt slighted in last year’s race. “Nah. Probably had one of the best seasons of my career and finished third, so I don’t really care no more.”

Furthermore, as one of the top sharpshooters the NBA has to offer, he told Basketball Insiders he doesn’t wouldn’t care to participate in the three-point contest, either.

Moving away from the individual side of things, Williams has enjoyed his time with the Clippers for the short time he’s been a part of the franchise.

One good reason is the opportunity to play under one of the league’s most respected head coaches in Doc Rivers, whom he credits has a unique manner of making adjustments.

“Doc is a high basketball IQ coach,” Williams said. “He knows how to break down the game on the fly, which is impressive. A lot of coaches, they make a lot of corrections at halftime or in film sessions. Doc makes them on the fly, which is great.”

Playing alongside two superstars isn’t so bad. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are a pairing that can dominate each and every time they step on the floor. In fact, having those two alone should be enough for the Clippers to get things turned back around.

When the frontcourt duo clicks on a nightly basis and the team returns to full strength, Williams believes that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“It’s been fun,” Williams told Basketball Insiders of the experience with Griffin and Jordan. “Obviously, we would like to win some games and I think that tide is gonna turn once we get back healthy.

“But these two All-Star guys in this league that’s done an exceptional job for this organization—so it’s been a good time being with these guys.”

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